PAB seeks independence from City Council

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Rochester’s Police Accountability Board is demanding to be recognized as an independent body.

Established after Rochester City Council voted to amend the city’s charter to create it in 2019, the PAB currently falls under Council’s authority. The board’s request to be severed from City Council appears to center on the PAB’s ability to hire staffers. What other legal implications might follow if the city were to meet the board’s demand for independence are not immediately clear.

City Council president Loretta Scott outlined the PAB demand in a Sept. 16 statement, noting that the board informed the city of the demand in a Sept. 3 letter asking that the PAB be awarded status as an agency fully independent of City Council.   

“I will refrain from commenting further on the legalities of this matter until (Rochester’s) deputy corporation counsel issues his formal response,” Scott adds. 

“City Council released a statement. We don’t have anything further,” Justin Roj, Rochester communications director, wrote in an email responding to the Rochester Beacon’s request for comment. 

Council member Malik Evans, who is expected to be sworn in next January as Rochester mayor, replacing the current mayor, Lovely Warren, says he learned of the PAB demand only in the past few days and is conferring with officials “to see what the challenges are and how we can ensure that we are all working together.” 

The demand appears to have been independently initiated by the PAB and to not be linked to ongoing litigation between the city and the union representing Rochester Police Department patrol officers, the Rochester Police Locust Club. 

In the PAB’s Sept. 3 letter, Shearman & Sterling LLP attorney Philip Urofsky contends that “it is critical to the PAB’s ability to carry out its mandate that it is—and be treated as—an independent and autonomous city agency.” Independence is crucial if the PAB is to carry out “daily and administrative functions, including, but not limited to, the hiring and supervision of staff,” the missive adds.

Andrew Celli, the New York City attorney representing City Council in the ongoing Locust Club litigation, declined to comment. Questions concerning the PAB demand should be directed to Scott, says Celli, a partner of Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff, Abady, Ward & Maazel LLP.

In the Locust Club litigation, the PAB has so far been blocked from disciplining RPD officers, a power initially delegated to the board in the authorizing legislation. That power was stripped after the Locust Club sued the city early last year seeking to limit the PAB’s authority. 

In a May 2020 ruling, Supreme Court Justice John Ark found that granting powers to the board as outlined in legislation authorizing the PAB would conflict with the mayor’s responsibility to discipline police and bargain with the Locust Club. 

An appeal of Ark’s ruling Celli filed last year was turned down by the state’s Fourth Department Appellate Division. Celli says he is waiting to hear whether the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, will agree to revisit the Fourth Department’s ruling. 

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.

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